If you participate in dressage, eventing, or jumping shows, you’re likely to be given a warm-up ring prior to your competition in the show arena. Don’t miss this valuable opportunity to set the stage for your best performance. Here’s how you can make the most of your warm-up for both you and your horse.
You want to head to the warm-up ring as early as you are allowed. But don’t overtire or overexcite your horse. This gives you extra time for all kinds of things, like:
- Retrieving items accidentally left at the stable block or float
- Gear check
- Interruptions in your warm-up time for harrowing or safety issues like a naughty horse
- Making sure your attire is satisfactory before heading to the arena
- Getting a break for water or the restroom
- Double checking equipment like girths or number holders
- Touching up any boot scuffs or loose mane braids
It also prevents the ring steward or other show personnel from having to make a last-minute call to find out if you’re still doing your test. Keep an eye on ride times as the show goes on. Know that some events go like clockwork and others move at a glacial pace and get progressively further behind as the day goes on. If you decide to scratch, make sure to let the event office know as soon as possible, in case they want to fill your time slot. This will prevent confusing the judges.
Shows are a good time to go over ring etiquette with the novice riders in your club. Competitors can get so caught up in their own warm-ups that they forget there are many other riders around them. It’s polite to check with the ring steward when entering the ring to confirm your rider number. Make sure you get any last minute information about changes to ride times.
All riders should keep a safe distance from each other, especially young riders and those on nervous horses. Be sure to tie a red bow in the tail of any mare in season (or follow whatever convention your club uses) to alert others to allow a little extra distance. Arena rules must be followed: left shoulder to left shoulder, lateral work at all paces has right of way, no walking or halting on the outside track, the higher pace has right of way.
Fortunately, many competitors today use a headset when communicating with their trainers in the warm-up ring. If you’re not using a headset, try not to take over the ring with loud conversation, as this disturbs others’ warm-ups.
When your ring steward says it’s time to head to the show arena, don’t dawdle. While you may feel you have all the time in the world, some shows are run on carefully calculated intervals, and your slowness can cause the show to go off schedule. Of course, there’s always the danger of being rung out of the arena for being too late.
Always heed any requests from the ring steward, who is there to ensure everyone has a beneficial warm-up and to safeguard all involved in the show. You should comply politely if asked for a whip measurement or a bit check.
Strategies for You and Your Horse
When you first enter the warm-up ring, try to view it from your horse’s perspective. Explore any “spooky” areas slowly at first to show your horse that flapping cloths, shadows, and passing traffic are nothing to fear. If there is anything that is truly dangerous or seems to be causing problems for all the riders, bring it to the ring steward’s attention.
If your horse tends to calm down after a little work, it may be wise to lunge him first or work him in hand in a separate designated space. This gives you an extra chance to take a leadership role. Get your horse used to being around lots of other horses if he’s new to showing. Hopefully, you can introduce a new horse to the process at some small shows first, so a big, high pressure show isn’t his first experience.
You want to keep the mood light and matter-of-fact in the ring because your horse will pick up on any nervous tension in you. Laugh, hum, take deep breaths—whatever you need to stay relaxed. Some riders wind up with their shoulders around their ears because of anxiety. Take a moment periodically to actively pull down your shoulders, check your hands, pull in your abdominal muscles, and strengthen your seat.
Now is not the time to try teaching any new elements or to make up for lost training. Your warm up should follow the same routine you follow at home. Routine will help your horse relax, as the familiar process will put his mind at ease. It will also help you to relax too. Following your warm up process gives you direction and focus, rather than fluffing around and around in circles getting nowhere with a spooky horse. Make sure you do lots of transitions to keep your horse on your aids and listening to you.
If at all possible, have a groom, trainer, or friend on the sidelines with a bucket of last-minute items. These might include a brush, polish cloth, water bottle, lip balm, sunglasses, tissues, etc. They can remove leg wraps, so you don’t have to dismount, and help with any final preparations before you enter the arena.
Your ring steward should give you a call to go to the show arena, but in case they get caught up with something more urgent, use a watch alarm or have your helper alert you when it’s time for the walkover. Always let the ring steward know you are leaving the warm-up ring.
Chances are your warm-up ring will have strict rules about safety. Usually, no one is allowed on foot in the ring, especially without proper footwear. Your helmet chin strap needs to be fastened even during warm-up, and there should be no use of cell phones once mounted. If you’re using a headset to communicate with your trainer, be sure to adjust the volume so you can hear ambient noise as well and won’t be taken by surprise by someone coming up alongside you.
If someone’s horse starts getting out of control, it’s best to discontinue your warm-up and exit the ring or head to the rails. If a rider gets thrown, you want to allow that person the opportunity to move to safety and don’t want to be in the way of an angry or fearful horse. The ring steward should close the ring gate in this instance to keep the loose horse from running amok in the crowd.
Your warm-up ride can set the tone for your show and help both you and your horse assuage any pre-show jitters. If you see the warm-up as a relaxing way to ease into show mode, you’ll have the best chance for success in the arena.